WASHINGTON, D.C. — Saying the Philippines has nothing to hide, Justice Secretary Leila De Lima today met with human rights watchdogs in the United States and assured them that the Aquino Government is taking concrete steps to address cases of extra judicial killings and other human rights violations brought to its attention.
In its report to Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert F. Del Rosario, the Philippine Embassy said Secretary De Lima and Ambassador Jose L. Cuisia Jr. invited representatives of US-based human rights groups on Monday, 24 September 2012, to present the steps that the Philippine Government has been taking to address their concerns.
Present during the dialogue were representatives of Human Rights Watch; Amnesty International; the Committee to Protect Journalists; the Ecumenical Advisory Network; and the International Justice Mission, which are among the NGOs that have been instrumental in the decision of the US Congress to withhold more than $13 million in military assistance to the Philippines since 2008. The Filipino Migrant Heritage Commission was also represented in the meeting.
The dialogue with human rights groups followed Secretary De Lima’s meetings with members of the US House of Representatives who expressed their satisfaction with the measures being undertaken by the Philippine Government to improve its human rights record.
“I cannot emphasize enough that the Aquino Administration does not sanction any policy of using violence, intimidation or threats to curtail the various rights and freedoms that humans enjoy,” the former Chair of the Commission on Human Rights said. “This Aquino Administration can honestly and sincerely say this because we absolutely have nothing to hide.”
“We welcome the opportunity and the challenge to demonstrate not just our sincerity but also the concrete steps we have taken to give you the assurance and proof that is your due,” Secretary De Lima told the human rights advocates during their meeting at the Philippine Embassy.
“When it comes to the number of convictions, our record leaves great room for improvement. That is a fact which we do not deny,” Secretary De Lima said, referring to cases of extra-judicial killings that the human rights groups want the Aquino Government to resolve.
“However, I cannot be more emphatic in my position that it is not fair to conclude from this that the Philippine human rights situation has not improved or that the Aquino Government has failed to deliver on its promises or that we continue to promote a culture of impunity.”
Secretary De Lima assured the group that the Philippine government is taking seriously its commitment to prosecute those responsible for extra-judicial killings and that it is undertaking concrete steps to improve the human rights situation in the country.
She cited the establishment of Human Rights Affairs Offices in the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police to educate uniformed personnel about the importance of observing and respecting human rights.
According to her, the Department of Justice is also working to improve its Witness Protection Program through proposed amendments to the law, bigger budget allocations and continuing with international partners such as Australia’s overseas aid program.
“We are also investing on our investigative and forensic infrastructure through the National Justice Information System, the modernization of our facilities and by grooming our investigators and prosecutors to work closely together to build strong cases for prosecution,”
Secretary De Lima said the justice department is also working closely with other stakeholders, including NGOs, in finding ways in achieving a higher level of operational capacity in investigating and prosecuting human rights cases such as the development of a Prosecutor’s Manual on Human Rights. ###